“Regardless of who has lived here, the culture of this area has always been civil, as a direct consequence of the nature of residential blocks as one of the ultimate urban forms. It generates the density of everyday events.”
The architects and life partners Tanja Grozdanić Begović and Saša Begović are two of the four founders and partners in 3LHD (along Silvio Novak and Marko Dabrović), one of the best known, most active, but also the biggest architectural studio in Croatia and the region. They graduated from the Faculty of Arhcitecture at the University of Zagreb and have been working together since 1994. It is really hard to single out any of many significant projects from their portfolio, but it should be mentioned that 3LHD studio has worked on such important projects as the renovation and revitalization of the Riva promenade in Split, Lone hotel in Rovinj, Brod / La nave: a floating pavilion for Croatia at the Venice Biennale, etc.
Last year they presented their previous work at the comprehensive 3LHD: Interactions exhibition at Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art. We visited Tanja and Saša early one morning at their apartment in the Vitić complex in Laginjina street in order to talk about the genesis and development of the neighbourhood with the people who deal with it professionally — exceptional architects.
Tanja G. Begović: We didn’t consciously decide to live in this neighbourhood. We were generally searching for an apartment about ten years ago, but it is true that we were gravitating towards this area. Actually, we started searching from Maksimir because we wanted to live in a greener area, and this apartment just popped up in an advertisement one day. We weren’t even aware it was located in the Vitić skyscraper — we only realized that when we showed up at the address. The apartment was in a very bad condition, it was very gloomy and it didn’t look too good altogether. But when we stepped inside, we felt there was great potential in terms of what we could get from the apartment. Since that was after we had our second child, who was just a baby at the time, we needed a bigger space. We realized that this two-bedroom apartment could be simply turned into a three-bedroom apartment and it all worked out eventually. There are five apartments on each floor of this building, with various dimensions: from 30 m2 to 90 m2.
Saša Begović: The whole Vitić complex, former National Bank residential complex, consists of three buildings — a three-storey building, a four-storey building and a skyscraper. This is the only building with somewhat bigger apartments, while the other two contain apartments not bigger than 60 square meters or so.
T.G.B.: The floor plan of the building is made of one interchanging construction module, and our apartment consists of two such modules. The beauty of this architecture is in its bilaterality and the fact that, thanks to the gallery, we have a direct relationship with the outer space, with the exterior. We use it virtually as an extension of the apartment, while we use the balcony as a conservatory, such as it was when we moved in.
S.B.: The principle of living with a gallery is always collective in a way. As soon as you design a gallery, and all three buildings in the Vitić complex have one, it is bound to boost interaction between the tenants. We meet our neighbours on a daily basis, we more or less all know each other, we sometimes socialize… But that communication is always sporadic. However, there is definitely a modernist spirit here — it is about a certain elegance of living, a wholeness of the space that determines the layout of the rooms, not the other way round. That is the reason why such building typology is extremely interesting. There is a terrace on the top of the skyscraper where tenants can socialize, which is also going to be renovated. The fact that there is a view of the common garden from the gallery could also contribute to our socializing, but the space hasn’t been active for years due to neglect and poor maintenance.
It has always been clear that this complex is of special interest and significance, and the fact is that not many such projects have been realized here. I think that the primary reason for the delay of its renovation is money, i.e. the lack of it. The two of us are members of the Renovation Monitoring Commission, so we’ll see how it goes… We used to be sceptics, but now we are great optimists.
— We were interested in how Tanja and Saša as architects explain the gradual changes that have affected the neighbourhood in recent years.
T.G.B.: The location of the neighbourhood is ideal for this direction of development. We are inside a radius where we are only ten minutes away from the most beautiful park in Zagreb — Maksimir, and as close to the very centre of the city, so it could be said that the centre is actually right here. Everything is at the tip of your fingers, there is a market here, and another one a bit further away, so by that we have everything we need. It is an existential platform from which everything else stems. Besides that, there has always been a lot of unused city space here that had to be mastered, which is surely one of the reasons for the emergence of new contents. It is a fact that the neighbourhood has started rapidly developing in the past five years or so.
S.B.: I think the process is completely logical. If we look at the emergence of the neighbourhood, we see that its modern energy extends to 1930s, surely the best period of Zagreb’s urban spreading since the creation of the Lenuzzi Horseshoe, a central city space. The spreading took place with a certain civil consciousness, at a time that was marked by quality in every aspect — economic, industrial, cultural… You can still hear an echo of the ’30s in the modern city matrix built after World War Two, in the ’50s and ’60s… That is when the urban area all the way to Maksimir was built and finished, where quality residential blocks were built, with well thought-out dimensions, with their critical mass and density, that are not provincially too low and that are full of fantastic apartments.
Regardless of who has lived here, the culture of this area has always been civil, as a direct consequence of the nature of residential blocks as one of the ultimate urban forms. It generates the convergence of all possible activities and the density of everyday events. The temporary deterioration of the neighbourhood might have been a consequence of an unnecessary and uncareful adoption of the American model of spreading the cities towards their edges, while the process which is now in motion is a kind of an echo of return. We have begin to realize again that the neighbourhood has everything, but it always has had.
It would be great when small crafts and trades in the neighbourhood could survive and develop… The City should enable them to use empty spaces for a small fee or for free, at least for the first couple of years, until their business stands on its own feet. I discovered a new tailor’s shop in Lopašićeva the other day and I was thrilled. Such craftsmen should only pay utilities until their business gains ground, and after three to four years they should present their bills to the lessor (the City) and start paying rent only if they have started making money. Such practice is common in all European cities — Zürich, Graz, Vienna… The only important thing is that the space is properly maintained. Such activities must be endorsed and preserved.